Tag Archives: election

Armenia’s renainssance man

>> Robert Kocharyan, Armenia’s former president, has emerged as the main rival to PM Nikol Pashinyan in a parliamentary election on June 20, writes James Kilner

Even for Armenia’s chaotic political landscape, Robert Kocharyan has had an extraordinary six months. 

JUNE 8 2021 (The Bulletin) — At the beginning of the year he was on trial, accused of corruption and the unlawful killings of 10 protesters in 2008 when he was Armenia’s outgoing president. Now, on the eve of a parliamentary election, he has emerged as the main rival to PM Nikol Pashinyan.

The June 20 election is an important one for Armenia as it will shape how the country recovers from losing a war to Azerbaijan for the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh last year. There is a plethora of candidates but analysts say that only two really matter. 

Pashinyan is a former journalist who seized power in a popular revolution in 2018 but is now blamed for the disastrous six-week war that ended in November. His My Step Alliance holds 88 seats in Armenia’s current 132-seat parliament, the maximum two-thirds majority that the biggest party is allowed, and he is likely to win the most seats again but, importantly, possibly fall short of a majority. 

This is where Kocharyan could come through, as he is regarded as the likely leader of a potential coalition that could form an alternative government.

It’s a remarkable turnaround for Armenia’s second post-Soviet leader. He was president between 1998 and 2008, overseeing an economic boom but also, according to his rivals, a rise in corruption. He handed over power to Serzh Sargsyan in 2008 who was then overthrown by Pashinyan. In 2019, prosecutors charged Kocharyan with corruption and the unlawful killing of anti-government demonstrators 11 years earlier, accusations which he said were politically motivated. In March this year, Armenia’s Constitutional Court agreed and threw them out. 

As they say, politics in Armenia is personal.

Kocharyan has rebuilt his appeal by presenting himself as a no-nonsense hero from Armenia’s first war in the 1990s for Nagorno-Karabakh, where he was born, a competent alternative to the firebrand Pashinyan. 

Pashinyan, in his election posters, styles himself as the suited establishment incumbent. He stares placidly away from onlookers, as if avoiding their gaze. 

Kocharyan’s posters, by contrast, show him tieless, sleeves rolled-up, staring straight ahead. A man on a mission.

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— This story was published in issue 487 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on June 9 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Kocharyan promises to secure Armenia’s borders if he wins election

JUNE 7 2021 (The Bulletin) — Robert Kocharyan, Armenia’s former president and now the head of an opposition party that is trying to unseat PM Nikol Pashinyan, promised to secure the country’s borders if he won a parliamentary election on June 20. Armenia’s election will shape the country for the next few years. 

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— This story was published in issue 487 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on June 9 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Uzbekistan moves election forward to October

FEB. 9 2021 (The Bulletin) — Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed a decree into law that will shift a presidential election this year to October from December. Lawmakers said that they wanted the election date shifted to October because the cold winter may deter people from voting. Uzbekistan’s presidential election is now scheduled for Oct. 24.

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— This story was first published in issue 471 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Armenian ruling party says it will consider early election in 6 months

FEB. 8 2021 (The Bulletin) — Armenia’s ruling party, the My Way faction, said that it would consider an early parliamentary election in six months time, once the country had completed a plan put forward by PM Nikol Pashinyan to stabilise the country after losing a war against Azerbaijan for control of Nagorno-Karabakh. Protesters have been calling for Mr Pashinyan, who took power in a revolution in 2018, to resign.

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— This story was first published in issue 471 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Comment: New year starts off with new elections in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan

JAN. 8 2021 (The Bulletin) —  So, the New Year is set to start in Central Asia with two political stability tests. A parliamentary election in Kazakhstan and a presidential election in Kyrgyzstan, both scheduled for Jan. 10, will provide early litmus tests on the stability of both countries and also the popularity of their current governments.

In both countries the incumbents will win. Parties supporting Pres. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev will win a majority in the Kazakh parliament, as they always do, and Kyrgyzstan’s Acting-President Sadyr Japrov will win a contest to be sworn in as full president for a single seven-year term.

Neither elections are good adverts for democracy in the region. Opposition groups have effectively been banned from standing in the Kazakh election, and there is a chance that protests will occur in an increasingly restless Almaty.

In Kyrgyzstan, Japarov will be elected on a popular ticket but he is also using his popularity to bend Kyrgyzstan’s constitution to his will. People in Kyrgyzstan will be asked to vote on two issues on Jan. 10. As well as who they want to become president, voters will have to vote on whether they want to change the country’s constitution, as pushed for by Japarov, to boost the power of the president at the expense of parliament.

This is where the controversy lies. By pushing for these tweaks, Japarov, who was freed from jail during a coup in October and quickly installed as Acting-President, is essentially tearing up a constitution sponsored by the West and adopted after a revolution in 2010. It was supposed to safeguard democracy in Kyrgyzstan and turn it into a beacon for the rights of ordinary people in a region dominated by autocrats. Instead it looks to be heading to the scrap heap.

Western influence in Kyrgyzstan has diminished and shrivelled since the US withdrew its airbase from outside Bishkek in 2014. During the coup in October, Western diplomats had to look on, warning of the threat to democracy by the ascent of Japarov through street-level politics. Now they are looking on as he manipulates the constitution to strengthen his position.

Japarov has argued that the parliamentary democracy system was imposed on Kyrgyzstan by well-meaning but misguided intelligentsia types who lived in central Bishkek and didn’t understand the country. He said that Kyrgyzstan was too young to adopt parliamentary democracy. There may be some truth in this but more accurate may be that the country is just too corrupt and the West didn’t put in the effort to ensure the survival of the political system that it advocated.

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— This story was first published in issue 467 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Armenia reports most cases of the coronavirus

APRIL 5 (The Bulletin) — Armenia has the most reported cases of the coronavirus in any country in the Central Asia and South Caucasus region. It has now said that there are 822 cases in Armenia and that seven people have died.

The Armenia-administered territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which Azerbaijan also claims sovereignty over, held elections despite the spread of the coronavirus (March 31). Two candidates who back Mr Pashinyan will go into a final round of voting , set for for April 14.

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— This story was first published in issue 441 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2020

Tajikistan holds a one-sided parliamentary election

MARCH 1 2020 (The Bulletin) — Tajikistan held a parliamentary election that generated, as expected, a clear win for the party of President Imomali Rakhmon. Tajik police had arrested hundreds of opposition supporters, mainly pious Muslims, in the run-up to the election. This, opponents of Mr Rakhmon said, was a state-sponsored effort to sideline opposition.
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— This story was first published in issue 438 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2020

Georgian government and opposition restart election reform talks

FEB. 27 2020 (The Bulletin) — Mediated by the US embassy in Tbilisi, the Georgian Dream coalition government and Georgian opposition parties re-started stalled negotiations on electoral reform. There had been four previous rounds of negotiations from November when the Georgian Dream downgraded efforts to bring in proportional representation ahead of a parliamentary election this year. The opposition walked out of talks at the start of February after the detention of one of its leaders.
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— This story was first published in issue 438 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2020

Uzbekistan completes parliamentary election

JAN. 5 2020 (The Bulletin) — Uzbekistan completed its parliamentary election with a second round of voting for 25 constituencies that needed a run-off. Western election observers had already described the election as one-sided despite the official narrative calling it the freest election in Uzbekistan. Pres. Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s party won 53 seats in the 150-seat chamber. None of the other four parties in parliament are critical of Mr Mirziyoyev.

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— This story was first published in issue 433 of the weekly Bulletin on Jan. 13 2020

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Comment: Uzbekistan’s not-so-free election

DEC. 27 2019 (The Bulletin) — Uzbekistan and its leader, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, have a lot to live up to in 2020. The Economist’s ‘Country of the year’, it feels like Mr Mirziyoyev has done the easy bit in Uzbekistan. He has taken the low hanging fruit from the tree and ripped into it.

I’m talking, of course, about his economic reforms that have been lauded across newspapers across the globe ahead of a parliamentary election on Dec. 22. He has improved conditions for private businesses to operate, he has pulled together Uzbekistan’s previously complicated exchange rate mechanisms and he has encouraged foreign investors to build factories and create jobs.

Perhaps most striking is the shift to being tourist friendly. In the early 2000s, the trademark reaction from Uzbek police and border guards when you wanted to cross into the country was gruff indignation. Now, it is a cheery hello. This year I made two land crossings into Uzbekistan, one from Shymkent in Kazakhstan and another from Osh in Kyrgyzstan. Neither could have been easier and none of the officials more charming.

And the tourism impact is partly behind this economic boom.

There are more Western tourists in Uzbekistan now than ever before. The infrastructure is still catching up with this expansion but it will get there. Uzbeks are natural hosts and want to make their guests welcome.

But talk around the election of genuine political changes is misguided. Mirziyoyev is no more likely to relinquish power as his predecessor, Islam Karimov. He has shown his ruthlessness by imprisoning senior and potentially troublesome members of the former regime already. All the power is concentrated into his hands. Parliament is there to rubber stamp his decisions and this latest election highlighted these traits.

Uzbek officials are playing a wily game. As they shift Uzbekistan into the spotlight and take their seats at the various international organisations that Karimov denied to them for so long, people will start asking questions about not only the state of the economy and business but also about political plurality, free speech, the media and the ability to object. By carefully stage managing this parliamentary election, with five political parties and a leaders’ debate on television they have given the impression, to some, that Uzbekistan is set for genuine far-reaching political reforms.

This is extremely doubtful, a scepticism highlighted by a parliamentary motion to toughen sentences for unsanctioned demonstrations.
Mirziyoyev faces a daunting 2020.

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— This story was first published in issue 432 of the weekly Bulletin on Dec. 27 2019

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